7 Dark AF Ways Your Ancestors Had Fun
At some point in our lives, we've all been so bored that we found ourselves doing something unbelievably stupid just to pass the time. But fortunately, these days, we have almost unlimited access to books and music and movies and ridiculous amounts of porn, so it's rare. Back in the day, our ancestors had a lot fewer things around to entertain them. Maybe that's why they came up with all this crazy stuff ...
The Navy Junior Boxing Program Had Kids As Young As Two Beating Each Other Up
When it comes to sports, we've managed to come up with some complicated ways to entertain ourselves over the years. There is the frenetic pace of basketball, the relaxation of a baseball game, and whatever the hell cricket is. But perhaps nothing is as simple and as enjoyable as watching two people beat the snot out of each other. Boxing has probably existed in one form or another since we came down out of the trees, but at least we had the good sense to make it a rule that it should be two adults of similar sizes going at it. Except for a period of time during and after World War II, that is, when parents decided it would be hilarious to watch their children battle it out.
Probably desperate for anything that would take their minds off the horrors they had seen in combat, the Navy set up a junior boxing program for the offspring of their enlisted men. Sure, some of these kids were 14, which seems like an OK age to start learning the sweet science, but the youngest were two. Two years old. Honestly, at that point, why have an age limit at all? Infants flail their arms around; why not stick their little hands in boxing gloves right after they are birthed into the world?
Lest you think that these toddlers were well up for punching their friends in the face, one child (now an old man) who participated says that he remembers half the boys saying they didn't want to fight, only to be told by their war-weary fathers to "shut up and be a man." See, that is the problem with this generation of two-year-olds: They aren't expected to be manly enough. While organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics want to coddle our special snowflakes and say that they "vigorously oppose" boxing as a sport for children because of the risk of "chronic" or "fatal" injuries, it wasn't that bad. A press photo from the time assures us that there was "little in the way of bloodshed."
In 1923, Popular Science asked its readers:
How would you like to own your own hand-power jitney balloon, to spend your Saturday afternoons joyriding in the sky, up a thousand feet or so, swinging beneath the round belly of a small gas-filled bag and traveling anywhere you can induce the playful breezes to take you?
That ... sounds terrible. Right? We're not the only ones who see a giant flashing neon sign telling us to run away? A thousand feet up? "Small gas-filled bag"? "Playful," aka suicidally strong, breezes? We're sorry, people of 1923, were the newly invented automobile and airplane already getting boring? Look, we don't want to accuse old-timey people of being stupid because they were old-timey, but seriously? Nutcases.
Amazingly, some people really thought this was a transportation breakthrough, and that soon we would all be floating around under own private gas-bags. But you won't be surprised to know that it was ridiculously dangerous, even for people who knew what they were doing. One early enthusiast was a Royal Air Force parachutist named Dobbs. You would think a man who trained other people how to safely bail out of planes would be the perfect person to get others interested in this new form of entertainment. And he did try, for a few years at least, putting on demonstrations for the public, hoping they would all run out and buy their own balloons and he wouldn't be so alone up there. But it kind of puts people off when you manage to die right in the middle of showing off how awesome and safe your new toy is, which is exactly what Dobbs did.
In 1927, he was doing his thing at the Stag Lane Aerodrome in North London when someone noticed he was jumping closer and closer to a high-tension cable. Despite hearing the warning that the wire was live, Dobbs shouted back that he would risk it and proceeded to try to jump over the cable. He is recorded as "nearly" clearing it, but "nearly" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. His feet got tangled in the wire, and when he reached down to try to free himself, he grabbed it and was electrocuted, throwing him down to the ground (so hey, it got him untangled!) and killing him on the spot.
And that, boys and girls, is why Mom and Dad don't hop/float to work to this day.
Blind People Beat The Crap Out Of Each Other (And Pigs) For The Amusement Of The Upper Classes
Until very, very recently in history, it wasn't a good idea to be born with any kind of disability. Able-bodied humans, probably trying to get their minds off the fact that at any minute they could die from childbirth or plague or explosive diarrhea, liked a bit of completely non-politically correct blood sport to pass the time. That's how they came up with a medieval favorite that the French called Le jeu de la truie et des quatre aveugles, or "the game of the sow and the four blind men."
The game was simple, if absolutely terrible: Get yourself a pig and a few blind guys (if you were low on actual sightless people, you could always get some seeing ones and blindfold them), and throw them in a ring or other cordoned-off space. Then arm the men to the teeth with huge wooden bats and tell them to start swinging. Whoever kills the poor piggy gets to keep it as a prize. Harmless fun, right? Well, not for the pig, but no matter how they got slaughtered back then, it was probably still horrible, so whatever. But the problem was that this game wasn't really about killing the pig. The true entertainment came from watching a bunch of blind people accidentally smash each other with the bats until they were half-dead.
People must have gotten a kick out of it, because the game had staying power. It was played after the Spanish won the Battle of Navas de Tolosa over the Moors in 1212. It was part of the celebrations during a wedding between a prince and princess in Navarre. It was played in 1386 in Germany with a full dozen guys beating the pig and each other. But they had to eventually give those men a little help; they hit each other so many times that many of them ended up collapsing, so they put a bell on the pig and made them keep going. And an anonymous chronicler records it being played at a festival in Paris in 1425. That time, they even had a little parade for the four blind guys before the event, which was probably a nice memory to try to hold onto every time they got bashed in the head.
These days, if you want to get in an argument about the treatment of foxes, you have to bring up fox hunting, which involves riding across the beautiful countryside before your pack of dogs rips one to sheds in front of you. But oh, has humanity managed to be so much more creative with fox torture in the past.
Creative with the technique, anyway, if not the name. Because when you hear "fox tossing," you probably get a good idea what this is going to entail. Basically, you have an arena of some sort so that the fox can't escape. Then you line up in pairs, as if you are going to swing a jump rope between you, but instead it's a cloth that you will use for the tossing. The foxes are let out of their cages and run around terrified out of their little minds. When they step on your cloth, you and your partner pull it tight, trying to fling the fox as high in the air as possible. The higher the better, since part of the "fun" was to watch the acrobatics it did in midair in order to try to land on its paws. But it would be wasteful for a fox to land and bash its head open on a solid floor, therefore ruining your chance of getting in more tosses, so the ground was often covered in sawdust. Still, it didn't prevent all injuries, especially since the animals were often tossed as high as 24 feet, and after the fun was over, the players would finish off any injured ones with a good clubbing.
If you got bored with foxes, people also used rabbits, badgers, and "wildcats." These events were often a veritable slaughter, with hundreds of animals dead by the end. Still, sometimes the poor animals got their own back. Foxes and "wildcats" have claws, after all, and it was accepted that to play this game meant risking getting bitten or slashed. But the occupational hazards didn't stop its popularity, and even Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I would play at least once a year.
A lot of these other animal torture games had died out by the time we hit the modern era. But not goose pulling. Goose pulling was so much fun that people had to keep playing it well into the 1800s. And lest you think it was only those mean Europeans doing all this stuff, this one managed to hop the pond and became popular in America as well.
Goose pulling, like fox tossing, is exactly what it sounds like (OK no, not that, sicko). First you get a rope or bar and place it across a road. Take a LIVE goose (or if you want to mix it up, a rabbit) and shave its neck. Then you cover its shaved neck and head in grease. Take your greased-up goose and hang it from the rope or bar by its feet, so its poor little body is flapping in the breeze in sheer terror. Then, anyone who wants to play gets on their horse, and they take turns charging down the road and trying to rip the head off the live goose. These are your ancestors. These sick fucks.
Anyone who missed the goose entirely would get doused in cold water, which doesn't really seem fair, considering what the bird is going through. It must have been a pretty hard game, since it often lasted for hours before someone finally killed the thing. The winner would get the goose, or sometimes a small cash prize, or just drinks at the pub afterwards. You put the poor, terrified bird through that for not a lot of reward. Oh, and this event traditionally took place on Shrove Tuesday, also known as the day before Lent starts, also known as the traditional day people get all the fun stuff out of their systems. So this is what people in the past really wanted to do before their 40 days of religious sobriety: rip a bird's head clean off with their bare hands.
Oh wait, did we say up there this died out in the 1800s? Yeah, about that. If you happen to be in parts of Germany, Belgium, or the Netherlands on Shrove Tuesday, to this day you might see people yanking the heads off geese in this manner. Thankfully, somewhere along the line, animal rights activists must have gotten involved, because at least now the goose is dead before they string it up.
The Bizarre Wax Bullet Duels That Ended In Parties
These days if someone insults you, you write a passive-aggressive Facebook post about them. But back in the day, people were constantly waiting for the chance to take offense at something someone said so they could duel. Despite putting their lives on the line, men and even sometimes women could not wait to grab a couple guns or swords and have at it. But after a while, governments stepped in and made dueling illegal, and people seemed to come to their senses and decided they didn't want to die because someone made fun of their hat. Did that mean they stopped dueling? Of course not. They merely found a way to make it a bit safer.
In the early 1900s, people started dueling with wax bullets. That way, you could still have the fun of pointing a gun at someone and aiming for their heart, but didn't have to spend the rest of your life in jail if you hit your target. The duels produced such "general merriment" that they were even held at Carnegie Hall. Then in 1908, they added a wax bullet dueling demonstration to the Olympics, as well as various shooting championships around the world.
Of course, just because the projectile you are getting shot with isn't a real bullet doesn't mean you can't get hurt. There were stories of both competitors and spectators losing eyes if a shot went wrong. Bits of body parts could also be removed, and one man who was interviewed about his experience dueling told how he accidentally shot off the fleshy bit between his opponent's thumb and pointer finger. He also warned that the fake bullets looked almost identical to real bullets, and that people had been killed when they mixed them up. Still, he said dueling was a "necessary evil," and that the ability to shoot at someone if they were rude made people polite. If that's true, considering the state of the world, maybe we should think about bringing it back.
Related: The 5 Most Insane Duels Ever Fought
The Toy Guillotine Fad
You remember when you were a kid how you'd take your dolls and put them in your toy electric chair and pretend to kill them? No? Oh right, that's because we're not insane, unlike French children during the Revolution, who went absolutely crazy for toy guillotines.
It was totally common for kids to attend the many, many beheadings that were taking place during the terror, and when they got home, they wanted their own version to play with. Two-foot-tall working models became all the rage, with children using them to chop the heads off dolls or even small animals. And the same way people today worry that violent video games are ruining our youths, eventually these tiny guillotines were banned out of fear they were a bad influence on children.
That didn't stop their parents having fun with the fad, though. They had smaller models made that they would use during dinner to chop up bread and vegetables. Sometimes they would have small figures of politicians or other celebrities made and filled with a red perfume that would spurt everywhere when they were beheaded. Ladies would then dip their handkerchiefs in the perfume so they left the dinner smelling nice. The apparently bloodstained handkerchiefs would go well with their other accessory, guillotine earrings.
After all the killings stopped and the aristocracy came back into power, they wanted to show how proud they were of their relatives who had died. So both women and men started wearing their hair short in the back, as if it had been sliced off by the guillotine. Women wore red scarves to represent the blood and those worn by two famous women who had been executed. And at a ball held every year for people who could prove they were related to a victim of the guillotine, dancers would bow to each other in a jerking motion, as if their head had been lopped off. That would be like if everyone went to prom and the cool thing to do was lay on the ground and pretend you were getting a lethal injection.
PS It's not like you can't still get a little guillotine for your desk.
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